No wonder Republicans feel like killing themselves. The only hope their own chairman can give them that they're not the party of government is that Bush created the largest, costliest new federal bureaucracy in American history.
When the GOP's cheerleader thinks a bloated bureaucratic nightmare with 170,000 employees is a shining example of "limited government" and "our Party at its best," even Republicans seem to be saying sayonara to conservatism. Stick a sword in it—it's done. ... 1:48 P.M.(link)
Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2006
Traitor to His Class: As they survey the ruins of the conservative movement, Republicans ponder what might have been, if only Bush hadn't blundered so often and Congress plundered so much. A study in today's New York Times provides shocking evidence of the latest conservative betrayal. According to the latest available IRS data, the richest Americans have fared worse under Bush than any other income group.
If the Republican revolution promised anything, it was that after years of oppression and neglect, rich people would finally have the chance to get ahead. But the Times reports that life is tough on Easy Street:
"Incomes after 2000 fell the most among those at the top of the income ladder. The top one-tenth of 1 percent, about 130,500 taxpayers, reported their average income fell almost 17 percent, to just under $4.9 million each in 2004."
Even Bush's harshest critics would have to concede that the president has done everything in his power to help the rich. He cut tax rates for the upper brackets. He cut the capital gains rate from 20 percent to 15 percent. He gutted the estate tax and virtually eliminated the tax on dividends.
From 2001 to 2004, Bush gave the rich a new tax cut every single year. Yet as the Times points out, even with all those trillion-dollar tax cuts, the richest Americans saw their after-tax incomes plunge by 12.1 percent.
In his 2004 campaign, John Edwards called Bush's economic theory "the most radical and dangerous economic theory to hit our shores since socialism a century ago." It's now clear that for the very rich, even socialism might have been a better deal.
This is shattering news for Democrats and Republicans alike. What is the point of supply-side conservatism if it can't even make the rich richer? For that matter, where is the joy in railing against it? Supply-side economics never made any sense to begin with, but now its logic isn't worth the napkin it was written on. Trickle-down theory turned out to be no trickle, just down.
President Bush is famous for setting big goals and failing to meet them. Now we know he can't meet the easiest of goals, either. The rich have been getting richer for centuries. Moreover, in contrast to its other pursuits, the Bush administration's efforts to help the rich were a model of persistence and consistency. No pesky resistance tried to stop them; no clumsy Rumsfeld botched the execution. They did their best, yet still they failed.
In response, the rich are voting with their feet—or perhaps their footmen. In 2004, Bush carried voters with incomes above $200,000 by 63 percent to 35 percent. This year, the Republican margin shrunk 20 points, to 53 percent to 45 percent. That was the sharpest Democratic gain of any income category. More and more rich people are coming around to Bill Clinton's view that "if you want to live like a Republican, you have to vote like a Democrat."
While the very rich keep seeing their incomes go down, the cost of being rich keeps going up. The PNC Christmas Price Index, which tracks the price of everything from 12 drummers drumming to a partridge in a pear tree, reported this week that the cost of the 12 days of Christmas has jumped to an all-time high of $18,920. PNC says that a tight labor market means wages for piping pipers and other skilled workers are up, while the burst in the housing bubble "has dampened demand for luxury goods, such as gold rings."
Ronald Reagan used to say that in the 1960s, Democrats fought a war on poverty, and poverty won. In this decade, Republicans fought a war on rich people's poverty, and poverty won again.
Once upon a time, the United States was the world leader in making people rich. Not anymore. The annual World Wealth Report keeps track of High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs), otherwise known as millionaires. According to the 2006 report, South Korea, India, and Russia are producing new millionaires three times faster than we are. Last year, the United States even fell behind Canada.
By examining "how much it costs HNWIs to live extremely well," the World Wealth Report shows just how hard it can be to keep up with the Gateses:
"HNWIs around the world have two things in common: a deep concern about preserving their wealth and an abiding desire to ensure growth of their wealth for the benefit of future generations and benefactors. … The 'admission and maintenance charges' to a life of privilege cannot be overlooked when discussing impacts to HNWI wealth."
While the gap has shrunk in the past two years, the report says that in 2003, the inflation rate for luxury goods was 5.5 percent higher than the Consumer Price Index. The report monitors an annual basket of luxury goods—including "5-star hotels, spa visits, and boarding school tuitions." As a percentage of wealth, rich Americans pay 60 percent more to live like Paris Hilton than Asian-Pacific millionaires do.
As they look toward 2008, that gives Republicans a new mantra: Stop the class warfare! Let Democrats whine about the middle-class squeeze. The upper-class squeeze—now that's an issue that Bill Frist and Mitt Romney can run on. ... 4:33 P.M.(link)
Thursday, Nov. 23, 2006
Crystal Ball: Move over, Mort Kondracke. You heard it here first: as predicted, Flyer and Fryer held on to defeat Plymouth and Rock, 27 percent to 22 percent, in this year's White House turkey naming contest. Corn and Copia, the other food item on voters' menu, finished third with 21 percent, ahead of deserving founder Ben and Franklin at 18 percent. Washington and Lincoln ended up first in war, first in peace, and last in the turkey standings, with 12 percent.
In what may be an early glimpse of a kinder, gentler Bush, the president dispensed with his annual neck-and-neck joke. He has given up pretending the election was close. Instead, Bush joked that it was probably better to be called Flyer than Fryer. He said the turkeys' owners "did a fine job raising these birds," then petted Fryer's neck and called it "a fine-looking bird."
Bush also revealed that although Barney had enjoyed chasing Flyer around the Rose Garden, his favorite toy is a soccer ball. That makes the president an honorary soccer dad, too late to win back any suburban swing voters.
Bates Motel: Flyer and Fryer have flown off to greener, Barney-free pastures in Disneyland. They don't know how lucky they are. With no help from Washington, some states are finding their own ways to reduce the turkey retiree burden. The Montgomery Advertiser reports on Alabama's solution: coyotes.
Every November, Bill Bates, a leading Republican who runs the largest turkey farm in the state, brings the best bird from his flock of 20,000+ to Montgomery for the governor to pardon. Bates, who has been doing this since segregationist days, doesn't need an online naming contest. He gives his best bird the same name every year: Clyde.
While a pardon may be the dream of every turkey worth his salt, the Advertiser's account suggests it's not easy being Clyde. The paper reports that many of Bates's prized turkeys "ate so much and got so fat that they had a hard time even waddling around the farm." Others apparently "have been known to drown during storms when they lift their beaks to the open sky."
But the pardon of Clyde '05 proved to be the cruelest hoax of all. After being honored by the governor, Clyde '05 went on display at a farmers' market in Montgomery. PETA complained about his shabby treatment, so Bates brought him back to the farm. A few months ago, a coyote got into his pen and had an early Thanksgiving dinner. "Poor Clyde never had a chance," Bates told the paper. "There wasn't much left but feathers and bones."
Since then, Bates has installed a new security system—barbed wire. But if more coyotes had time to read blogs, they might have left Clyde alone and followed this hot tip from Huffington Post:Tofurky. Made with "organic, non-genetically engineered soybeans," Tofurky has been "America's Leading Turkey Alternative Since 1995."
The 2007 "Gobble the Vote" naming contest is 364 days away, but we already have a frontrunner: Tofurky and Clyde. You heard it here first. … 1:27 A.M.(link)
the highbrow Dakota Fanning All shook up over Hounddog.
By Meghan O'Rourke
Wednesday, January 24, 2007, at 12:51 PM ET
If all you knew about Dakota Fanning was that she starred as Fern in Charlotte's Web, I suppose it could come as a shock that her controversial new film, tentatively titled Hounddog, isn't a movie about charming canines, but the story of a pre-adolescent girl caught in a cycle of abuse who, in the most talked-about scene, is raped by an older boy. Before the film debuted at Sundance this week, it ignited a firestorm of debate, with protesters registering their distress that Fanning had been exposed to such provocative subject matter. But the truth, as anyone who has recently been to the cinema knows, is that Dakota Fanning has been making dark and creepy movies for years. Over her seven-year career, she has become a small, blond embodiment of America's fond hope that scarred children can be restored to childish innocence. It was only a matter of time before the trauma she faced would be rape.
From the start, Fanning has played the preternaturally mature child who could toe the cold waters of trauma but just as swiftly retreat to the broad sands of innocence—with a shiver, perhaps, but nothing more enduring than that. In films like The War of the Worlds, Hide and Seek, and Man on Fire, she became an emblem of button-cute purity threatened—but not overcome—by the ordeals and evil that are, more properly, part of the adult world. They are roles that enact our voyeuristic curiosity about how far the boundaries of innocence can be extended. In the intensely violent Man on Fire (2004), she is a neglected, love-starved child who is kidnapped for ransom money, and watches her beloved bodyguard (and only true friend) get brutally shot in front of her as she cries his name. She is later rescued, but he dies for her. In Hide and Seek (2005) she plays a troubled 9-year-old whose mother has recently died; terrible things happen, but in the end, she appears to find some relief from her emotional suffering. ("Dakota Fanning is the most SCARY thing i have ever seen," a viewer posted on IMDB, in apparent approval.) In The War of the Worlds (2005), she watches as aliens destroy her world, transforming it into a landscape literally flowing with blood, and her father kills a man in order to save her life, while she sits nearby. She is brutalized and subdued, but by the film's end—when she reaches the cozy brownstone where her mother is—she appears ready to be absorbed again by the consoling rhythms of domesticity; one feels that even her toys are intact.
What complicates the trauma in the Hounddog is Fanning's decision to portray a rape victim at precisely the juncture in her own life we're uncertain how to conceptualize: pre-adolescence. Had the news arrived that a 9-year-old Fanning were flouncing around in her underwear in an upcoming movie, protesters who are alleging that the film is unmistakably "pedophilic" might have had a firm leg to stand on. Had the news arrived that a 15-year-old Dakota were doing the same, her defenders (including her mother and her agent, who are reportedly hoping for an Oscar nomination) might more persuasively have been able to argue that she made the choice with full autonomy, taking it on as a substantive artistic "challenge," as her agent put it. But she is 12. In her press pictures, she still looks like a scrawny child, gap-toothed and big-eyed. (Little wonder, then, that bloggers have posted outdated photos of her, playing up the contrast between her childishness and the supposed brutality of the film.) Protesters of the film may be genuinely concerned that acting out a rape scene in a film is traumatic to Fanning. But what some are presumably also anxious about is that watching Dakota in a rape scene is traumatic to them; in today's world of hypersexualized celebrity adolescence, can a fling with a creep or tawdry table-dancing be far away?
The strangest thing about the pre-release debate may have been observing Dakota Fanning herself defending her choice with the savvy articulateness of a child raised in Hollywood's echo chamber. In curiously perfect sound bites, she winningly explained her decision to play the part to the New York Times ("The bottom line was, I couldn't notdo it," she remarked. "I was the perfect age"). Elsewhere, she pointed out what seemed to her a puzzling failure of logic, noting that Hounddog is "no darker than Hide and Seek or Man on Fire! I still am going through difficult things in those films as well, and nobody seemed to talk about that!" She's right that the new film isn't truly a departure from her earlier work. But it is a resolutely unambiguous extension of her child-actor roles into the realm of the adolescent. And it's this lack of ambiguity that has stirred controversy: She's crossed the sexual Rubicon. Taking on this character is a violation of the subtle enactment of anxieties about survival and innocence that had formerly gone—quite pleasingly—unstated. Whether or not she is fully aware of it, Fanning, the actor, is officially leaving childhood behind in the eyes of the public.
And she may not be fully aware of it. Take, for example, the fact that in the Times she defended her choice to play the role of the young girl, Lewellen, by reassuring her interviewer that Lewellen "is still very innocent, she's still a child, but she's also a little bit wise beyond her years." There's an odd paradox at work. Fanning invokes Lewellen's innocence as a way of comforting us that she herself has not yet reached the realm of sexuality and still stands at the brink of it. But to know to do as much is, in a way, to be out of the garden already. That she comprehends the various dimensions of the role is not reassuring proof of her childishinnocence. It only makes it all the more impossible for the viewer to imagine her going back to the cocoon of childhood, rather than moving forward into the trials of adolescence.
From this perspective, whether or not Hounddog is a film about redemption and healing doesn't exactly matter; nor does it matter whether Fanning wore a bodysuit while filming; or whether Jodie Foster and Brooke Shields, two child actresses to play sexually graphic roles in the 1970s, survived their experiences whole. Such niceties are beside the point (and the announcement of them, not surprisingly, didn't reduce the pitch of the protests). The problem for an American audience weaned on this waif, and chock-a-block with repressed feelings about adolescent sexuality itself, is that Dakota Fanning the actress (if not the character she plays) has chosen to take on this graphic a role. She has opened Pandora's box. Once she has become part of the sexual economy of adolescence—about which Americans are so clearly conflicted, living as we do in a hypersexualized era that is also peculiarly hyperprotective of children—she can't go back.
the zeitgeist checklist Zeitgeist Checklist: Barack Obama, Presidential Explorer What Washington is talking about this week.
By Michael Grunwald
Saturday, January 20, 2007, at 7:07 AM ET
Talk About a Botched Execution! Iraq. Critics express outrage over another botched execution, as Saddam Hussein's half-brother is decapitated by his noose. How is that a botched execution? If Hussein's half-brother had expressed outrage, that would've been a botched execution. Still, President Bush says the incident shows that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government "still has some maturation to do." Maliki vows that someday his government will be mature enough to blunder into a foreign quagmire to prove he's tougher than his dad.
We'll All Be Grateful in January 2009 White House. In an interview Wednesday night on PBS' NewsHour, Bush says average Americans have made sacrifices during the war because they "sacrifice peace of mind" when they watch TV. Especially Americans who watched NewsHour on Wednesday night. Bush also suggests that Iraqis aren't grateful enough to Americans. That's not a joke. He really said that.
Edna Doesn't Balance Her Budget, Either Surveillance. The Bush administration finally agrees to stop its warrantless wiretapping of Americans but defends its new program to snoop around their financial records. Vice President Cheney says the program is vital to national security and adds that Edna J. Fleischman of Grand Forks, N.D., really didn't have to pay so much for that muffler.
White House Dogcatcher? White House Brie-Taster? 2008. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., announces that he's forming a presidential exploratory committee but confuses supporters by vowing "to be the best Joe Biden I can be." And Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., says he's considering another run for the White House. That's not a joke, either. Well, it is, but he did say it.
How Do You Say "Baba Booey" in Mandarin? Space. China shoots down a satellite with a ground-based missile, triggering protests from rival nations that fear a new space-based arms race and from a billion Chinese who can no longer listen to Howard Stern.
Somebody Loan This Guy a Clue Democrats. House Democrats complete their 100-hour agenda, passing bills to lower student-loan rates, eliminate oil-industry giveaways, and let the government negotiate with drug companies. Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, scoffs that Democrats are just passing easy bills with overwhelming public support, which explains why so many Republicans voted against them and why Bush has threatened to veto them.
Hell Seems Unseasonably Chilly, Too Pentagon. Legal advocates demand an apology from a Bush administration official who attacked attorneys for Guantanamo Bay detainees—and he provides it! What's next, a confession from O.J.? A serious acting award for Eddie Murphy? Ethics reform in Congress? Yes, it has been an odd week.
It's Hard To Be Impartial About a Man Named Scooter Crime. The defense delays jury selection in the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial, objecting to any potential jurors with negative feelings about the Bush administration. The judge agrees to limit the jury to members of the Ijaw, Ovimbundu, Ariaal, and other isolated tribes without negative feelings about the administration, but Libby insists on a jury of his peers, consisting solely of faceless bureaucrats responsible for geopolitical catastrophes.
Maybe He Should Wear a Zero on His Shirt Sports. Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, Washington's most exciting athlete in years, drops another 50-point game. Fans love how Arenas shouts "Hibachi!" every time he launches a three, to announce that he's heating up. Maybe Bush should shout "Bordello!" every time he launches a policy.
He's Dying Out There! Death. Legendary Washington Post humor columnist Art Buchwald, his comic timing unimpeded by the mere fact of his expiration, announces in a video obituary: "Hi, I'm Art Buchwald, and I just died." Buchwald's passing is a reminder of the bygone days when journalists were beloved, and Washington Post humor columns were humorous.
today's blogs Surging Disapproval By Sonia Smith
Thursday, January 25, 2007, at 5:04 PM ET
Bloggers are fit to be tied over a Senate committee's nonbinding resolution disapproving of the troop surge for Iraq. They're also following the goings-on in Beirut and are trying to figure out what the gay-sheep study means.
Surging disapproval: The Senate foreign relations committee thumbed its nose at the president Wednesday, voting 12-9 for a nonbinding resolution of disapproval against the troop surge. Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel was the only senator to stray from his party.
Many are fuming at Republicans for voting against the resolution after voicing displeasure with Bush's plans. Liberal John at America Blogseizes on this hypocrisy: "So, the Senate Republicans are opposed to the Bush escalation plan, are willing to voice that opposition publicly, but they feel that if they actually vote their opposition then somehow this will magically signal our allies, our troops, and our enemies that we are divided and in disarray over Iraq." At the nonpartisan After Downing Street, John Isaacs criticizes the Republican committee-members: "[T]he fact that so many could not bring themselves to vote for a non-binding resolution shows the magnitude of the task ahead to convince Republicans that they have to vote to stop the war in Iraq."
Live-blogging the hearing, D.C. snarkster Wonkette was bored: "[I]t's terribly exciting, in a non-binding sort of way. Chris Dodd and his evil eyebrows have just proposed an amendment in which he'll request—nay, demand!—that the President not ignore the Senate, which he has promised to do. ... Their joint resolution will force the President to… respond to them. Checks and motherfucking balances!"
Republican James Joyner at Outside the Beltwayparses the implications: "It's very difficult, both from a separation of powers standpoint and from a political one, for Congress to force a president to abandon an ongoing war. The tide has definitely turned … for a prospective GOP presidential candidate [Sen. Chuck Hagel] to vote for a rebuke of his president's policy."
The Dartmouth junior at Joe's Dartblogdubs the Democrats' assertion that the surge is not in our national interest "absolutely ghastly." Others are similarly horrified. "The FRC majority want to assure us that they 'support the troops' while simultaneously undercutting their mission, bucking up their enemies, and leaving them on the front. … They claim that no increase in forces or any other plan will work. Yet they refuse to cut off funds to force their return," vents Cry Me a Riverbend at Iraqi Bloggers Central.
Read more about the nonbinding resolution.
Student violence in Beirut: As international donors met in Paris to discuss reconstruction aid for war-torn Lebanon, the country experienced more violence, with a deadly confrontation between Sunnis and Shiites at a Beirut university. The government instituted a curfew and braced for further destabilization.
At Candide's Daily Journal, Lebanese-American liberal Pierre Tristam draws comparisons between the current unrest and the civil war: "This is how it was, in those acrid early days in 1975: the strikes. The protests. The burning tires. … And this is how we knew the 'protests' in Beirut, between Hezbollah and the government, would eventually turn. To fire, riots, shootings, and if the hotheads prevail, as they seem always to prevail in Lebanon, civil war all over again. I've been looking at the pictures coming out of Lebanon. They're the pictures of 1975. Only the car models have changed. "
Writing at Pensées du Rik, Henri ruminates on the situation in Beirut, his current location: "Speaking of the army, it is now out in strength, but I don't see it starting to shoot on people. … At some point it will either attempt to restore order by force or split along sectarian lines. How easy it is the Iraqify Lebanon, after Iraq was Lebanized."
Posting just after the curfew was announced, Wissam at Blacksmiths of Lebanonreports: "It is interesting to note, according to eyewitness accounts, that the troublemakers do not engage in skirmishes in their own neighbourhoods. For example a Shia from Barbour (a mixed Shia-Sunni neighborhood) would go to Tarik Jadideh (a mostly Sunni area) to look for trouble and vice versa. I guess they do put some stake in their property values!"
Islamoskeptic Patrick at Clarity and Resolve uncharitably proclaims that "Lebanon's brief interlude of sanity" is over, writing, "That's how it's looking. It's certainly worth noting how any geographical location with a sizable Muslim population somehow ends up in one of two political situations: chaotic turmoil and violence or enforced stability under a ruthless autocrat."
Right-wing Shawn Wasson at BareKnucklePolitics has pictures and video from the student riot.
Read more about the unrest in Lebanon.
The science of sheep: A scientist studying the sexuality of sheep has seen his research twisted, drawing him uncomfortably into the spotlight.
Law prof and moderate Ann Althousewonders what all the fuss is about: "Don't we accept the idea of sheep breeders doing what they can to get sheep who will in fact breed? Should someone who objects to efforts to cure human beings of homosexuality resist efforts to manipulate sheep? ... Shouldn't gay rights advocates care when they sound like the religious fundamentalists they usually deride?"
Mouseydew at The Sietch Blog, a group blog, feels this research is important: "I do feel that such scientific research is of interest to us all to understand our nature. In some ways, this could be seen as a positive source of affirmation for the gay community that it is a biological factor, not one of environment as some ignorant opponents would argue."